by ZACH KAYSER
Perhaps a lingering aftereffect of controversy from years ago, a vote Tuesday to permit a new dog breeding operation sparked a split 3-2 vote at the Winona County Board.
There was no debate from commissioners on whether to grant the permit to Henry Yoder for his proposed farm near Utica. But in an unusual occurrence, Commissioner Chris Meyer split off from fellow commissioners Greg Olson and Marie Kovecsi and sided with Commissioner Steve Jacob and Board Chair Marcia Ward to approve the permit.
In 2015, the normally mundane permitting process was the scene of intense discord as a group of Amish farmers sought — and ultimately received — approval from the county for their breeding operations. Concerned activists from all over the state flooded the County Board with correspondence opposing the kennels on animal welfare grounds.
On Tuesday, it was Olson who moved to take the dog kennel issue from the consent agenda and give it its own vote. Interviewed subsequent to the meeting, Olson recalled that during the 2015 debate, animal rights group Animal Folks MN had met with the board, and convinced him of the drawbacks surrounding dog breeding facilities.
“They weren’t necessarily pounding-the-table activists, but they were interested in education on puppy mills and dog breeding operations,” Olson said. “They really made an impact on me. Since that point, I have voted against any expansion or new dog breeding operations in Winona County.”
Olson said Animal Folks MN’s characterization of dogs as sentient beings was particularly meaningful to him, because he has been around adopted dogs his entire life.
In a pragmatic sense, Olson said it wasn’t logical for the county to provide finances to the local Humane Society while, at the same time, allowing the propagation of businesses which would increase the number of strays and surrendered animals.
Also interviewed following the meeting, Meyer harkened back to her time on the Planning Commission before she came to the County Board. In her view, if the zoning law allows a certain land use, then that should be a key consideration when the county decides whether or not to grant a permit. Meyer pointed out that the Board operates in a quasi-judicial capacity — that is, they’re expected to act impartially, like a judge — when deciding whether or not to grant usage permits. Furthermore, the state of Minnesota is the authority when it comes to the well-being of the dogs, not the county, she said.
“People are concerned about the health and welfare of the dogs,” Meyer said. “That is really the responsibility of the state. And people are concerned about barking. To that end, the last time we addressed a kennel, Commissioner Kovecsi and I had asked for the zoning ordinance with respect to [kennels] to give us some more options in terms of [a] noise ordinance, barking ordinance, some possible changes. And of course, that stuff gets backed up, so that has not happened yet.”
In his permit application, Yoder indicated he aims to have the Yorkshire Terrier breeding facility operational by the end of the year.